Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Great Maryland Tax Revolt

Free State conservatives may have experienced a miserable election night with the victory of Barack Obama and Democratic pickups in the House and Senate. But they should take comfort from one development in Maryland: voters have made clear their intolerance for new taxes.

The most obvious sign is the wild success of the slots referendum. The pundits predicted a close contest. So of course, preliminary totals show the referendum passing by 58.6-41.4%, a margin of 17.3 points. But that number conceals the staggering totality of the sweep. Fourteen of Maryland’s twenty-four jurisdictions recorded 20-point-plus pro-slots margins. And what of the five jurisdictions (Baltimore City, Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester) that will actually receive a casino? They recorded a combined 59.2-40.8% vote for slots, a margin of 18.4 points.

The most overused line by politicians during this campaign has been, “I’m not a fan of slots.” Of course not. Few people are. But few voters are fans of taxes either. And slots proponents won because voters believed their core argument: slots are preferable to taxes. The regressive nature of the 2007 special session tax package undoubtedly brought that point home to a very large number of Marylanders.

Anti-tax sentiment extended even into the state’s bluest Democratic strongholds. Prince George’s County is infamous for its underachieving schools. Yet, voters rejected a mere $17 million tax hike targeted for the schools by a 71-29% margin. And Montgomery County, perhaps the most liberal place in the state, is on the verge of approving Robin Ficker’s anti-tax charter amendment.

All of this leads me to recall the considerable number of liberal politicians who have suggested an alcohol tax increase. Their argument begins with the fact that liquor taxes in Maryland are relatively low. And since everyone knows that low taxes are bad, basic common sense dictates that this tax be raised. Forget about the fact that few Bud-drinking people I know would agree with this philosophy. The truth is that we are entering a recession. Bad times warrant a comforting nip (or two) from the bottle. I would ask these politicians if they really want to tax my unemployed union members into involuntary sobriety. If they try, they may find how creative a construction worker with a two-by-four can really be.

Given the above developments, there is no safe place for a tax-hiking politician to hide in the Free State right about now. Not in Kingsville, Kettering, Kensington or the Kentlands. My advice to our political friends is to tolerate the spending cuts, keep your heads down and check back in with us after the next election.